Widgets Magazine

OPINIONS

The final rose

“The Bachelor”: it’s consuming America. Across the country, loyal disciples gather on Monday evenings, bickering about whether Nick is worthy of Rachel and hoping their “Bachelor” brackets will come out on top. This season has been particularly sensational, raising some pressing questions: Will another lucky woman vomit during a one-on-one date? Will Corinne’s adult nanny make an appearance? And most importantly, will Nick ever develop a personality?

Using the coveted rose,”The Bachelor” has captured America’s attention for 21 seasons and counting. Rife with rivalry, suspense and gimmick, the reality show’s ability to inundate the audience with scandal has guaranteed its lasting success.

There’s something to be learned from the technique of “The Bachelor — and it’s one used by countless reality TV shows. Take “The Apprentice,” for example. There’s rivalry between individuals and judgment by arbitrary celebrities. There’s suspense, with one contestant being eliminated each week. There’s gimmick, or the widely-known catchphrase: “You’re fired!”

Reality television is so formulaic.

The formula reminds me of the tactics employed by the previous host of “The Apprentice,” Donald Trump, in the 2016 presidential race. Utilizing common narrative tropes and then magnifying his message through social media, Trump is America’s first reality TV president.

Donald Trump secured 46.1 percent of the popular vote, inspiring over 60 million ballots. He defied odds and denied forecasters who predicted Clinton’s chances of winning at anywhere from 70 to 99 percent. How did this corporate magnate triumph over a past senator of New York and secretary of state?

His personal branding mobilized millions of voters. Trump’s melodramatic brand emulates that of “The Apprentice,” especially given the emphasis on personal rivalries and successive scandals. Not only was his campaign obsessed with such narrative tropes but he has been sure to amplify his message through social media.

Rather than giving up his role in “The Apprentice,” Trump modeled his entire campaign after reality TV. Whether he’s calling Arianna Huffington “unattractive both inside and out,” labeling Politico as the home of “very untalented reporters” or describing Obama as “the worst president in the history of the United States,” Trump spits more invectives than ideas. According to his insult generator — and you know it’s bad when the 45th President of the United States has an insult generator — “Tashrima, a dishonest slob of a reporter, calls him a jackass. But nobody beats Trump! Get smart!”

In addition to his use of personal antagonism rather than a political platform, Trump’s character as a politician has been a major publicity stunt. Any reality TV fan knows an effective show provides entertaining material at regular intervals: Corinne brings out the whipped cream, then she falls asleep during the rose ceremony, then she throws a tantrum because she can’t dance.

Similarly, for Trump, it’s all about the drama. Why all the hullaballoo with the one-by-one rose ceremony for cabinet picks — would Betsy DeVos get the final rose? Why the proud stance with Russia against American intelligence agencies? Why the flurry of executive actions within his first thirty days in office?

Why? Because it demands the audience’s attention.

President Trump’s concern for public perception is clear from his social media platforms. He has “mastered Twitter in a way no candidate ever has, unleashing and redefining its power as a tool of political promotion, distraction, score-settling and attack.” Over the campaign, Trump was retweeted twice as often as Clinton, with a Twitter following four million larger than his opponent’s. Online interest in Trump was three times higher than in Clinton, and he was the most mentioned on Google, Twitter and Facebook. Given his recent venture into the Snapchat sphere, it is likely his media manipulation will continue over the next four years.

By adopting narrative tropes and flooding Twitter with histrionic rants, Trump commanded that America listen. He created a successful reality television brand. In that respect, Clinton failed.

In pondering the recent election, it is important to determine what spurred Trump’s rise to power. How can those facets affect the election of future leaders, both in and out of the Oval Office? Such reflection is a source of learning, not disheartenment, as we seek future candidates who truly have American interests in mind.

What convinced almost half of the American population that Trump has what it takes to fill the void left in Obama’s absence? The grander lesson to glean from the 2016 election is the importance of critically analyzing social media and the press. The average American consumes 34 gigabytes of content and 100,000 words of information in a single day. When absorbing such vast quantities, we must be cognizant of the tactics used against us.

In the same way “The Bachelor” is a guilty pleasure — one that we are ashamed of, yet addicted to — branding is easier to accept than to analyze. However, the first step to becoming a critical consumer is acknowledging that politicians, individuals, sales teams, media and the like may apply rivalry, suspense and gimmick to sway us. Being aware of such strategies can help us start to understand a businessman aggrandized by a stint in the political limelight.

To much of America’s disappointment, Nick continues to give Corinne a rose week after week, and 60 million voters gave a rose to Donald Trump last November. But at the end of the day, a rose is no more than a symbol used to snag the country’s attention and reward the most enthralling character. By becoming more discerning consumers of information, we can overcome narrative tropes, reality television branding and social media theatrics, in order to more wisely dole out roses in the future.

And thus, only one question remains: who will receive the final rose — from Nick this March and from the United States in November 2020?

 

-Tashrima Hossain ’19

Contact Tashrima Hossain at thossain ‘at’ stanford.edu.